Trans women of colour in Australia are more likely than other women to report having been assaulted by a stranger, new research has confirmed.
The study by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) shows that trans women of colour are subject to pervasive violence both outside and inside the home, from verbal violence to physical assaults.
Trans women of colour include Indigenous sistergirls, Fa’afafine, and others who may be migrants or come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The researchers said the evidence shows that trans women of colour are safe from abuse in “very few places”.
They were found to be twice as likely as other groups of women to report having been sexually assaulted ten or more times.
The majority of women who reported sexual assault had been assaulted more than once.
The research, led by Professor Jane Ussher at Western Sydney University, looked at trans women of colour’s experiences of sexual violence within the range of violence experienced by women.
“Trans women of colour are a really potentially vulnerable group,” said Professor Ussher.
“They experience both transphobia and transmisogyny.”
Trans women’s experiences are often overlooked in statistics and research on sexual violence against women.
They face discrimination and violence on the basis of the intersection of their gender and racial identities and, for some, their sexual identities.
The report highlights the lack of services available to these women.
“[I] cannot access women’s sexual assault services because I’m transgender, and the other straight women will be afraid that I’m a perpetrator,” said one study participant.
The women described experiences and struggles relating to their intersecting identities.
Another participant recalled being urged to lighten her skin to be “more passable” and “feminine”.
The report shows that the experiences and needs of trans women in relation to sexual violence remain poorly understood by many healthcare providers, legislators, police, and policymakers.
The experiences and needs of trans women of colour are the least understood.
ANROWS CEO Dr Heather Nancarrow said that the research shows misinformation and the absence of culturally competent knowledge can lead to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination.
“This results in unmet health and justice needs for trans women,” said Dr Nancarrow.
“This means we must ensure that our words, policies and practice guidelines promote respect for gender, sexuality, and cultural diversity.
“We must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual violence against any woman.”
Professor Ussher said that trans women were at highest risk of violence during and after transition, but that the process of transition was critically important.
“Gender affirmation helps them to feel that they’ve found their true self, that they can be the person that they really are, and they can find a sense of community – but at the same time they’re at high risk of violence,” she said.
The study report calls for education and change to make health services, migrant services, and sexual violence support services visible, accessible, and supportive of trans women of colour.